SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - The U.S. men's national team welcomed a new #10 into the fold Tuesday night against Azerbaijan, as Mix Diskerud made good on his first appearance wearing the number formerly featured by Landon Donovan, scoring the game winning goal in a 2-0 victory in front of 24,688 at a blustery Candlestick Park.
The Norway native was joined on the score sheet by Aron Johannsson six minutes later after the Icelandic forward steered home a header off a corner kick to double the U.S. advantage. That the weather at the ‘Stick favored those plying their trade in northern latitudes was likely not a coincidence - broiling Brazilian rainforest heat and humidity this was not.
Diskerud entered the game just after the hour mark and immediately helped change the tempo of what had to that point been a tepid affair. Not surprisingly, it took the Yanks that much time to find their rhythm on a night when their opponent was content to play nine, and sometimes ten, players behind the ball. The test was good for a squad that will find the going much tougher at the World Cup when play begins in Brazil in mid June.
The U.S. captain Clint Dempsey, arguably the best playmaker on the squad, was a late scratch for Klinsmann's starting eleven with a groin strain, allowing local hero Chris Wondolowski to begin the game in his stead.
"It is not serious at all," said coach Jurgen Klinsmann in his post game comments. "He had a little bit of pain yesterday, so I decided during warm-ups to give him a few days."
"You have to be ready at a moments notice," said Wondolowski about the surprise start. "I learned when we came back in after warm-ups"
And it almost paid immediate dividends as, in the 4th minute, Wondolowski delivered a vicious header on target via a Graham Zusi free kick that goalkeeper Kamran Aghayev did well to deflect away.
In ninth minute, Wondolowski earned a free kick along the left sideline that allowed Zusi another chance to deliver to his phalanx of forwards. The Azerbaijan defensive back four did well to clear the ball from danger.
On the quarter hour mark, Alejandro Bedoya spun off a defender on the right edge of the penalty area and struck a low cross into the danger zone. Wondolowski, who else, met the ball and redirected a header on target that forced Aghayev into his second big save of the night, palming the ball up and off the crossbar.
"I was a bit disappointed to not find the back of the net," said Wondolowski. "I had a couple of great opportunities that I find the corner of [the goal] and hit the back of the net there. It would have been nice to get one."
In the 38th minute, after a nice give-and-go with Michael Bradley in the area, Wondolowski ran into space to collect a deflected shot. Unfortunately for the Quakes striker, his shot required the utmost precision from a tight angle, and it didn't trouble the ‘keeper as it sailed into the side netting.
The second half brought a bevy of substitutions for the U.S., including Wondolowski's good friend Brad Davis at left midfielder. However, the changes did little to light a fire under the often listless Yanks, and other than a Bradley free kick attempt that soared harmlessly over the bar, the offense did not test the Azerbaijan defense.
After 62 minutes, Wondolowski's shift was over, and Klinsmann brought in Aron Johannsson to pair with Altidore. The hour-long appearance for the Earthquakes designated player resulted in the two best scoring chances for the U.S. to that point in the game, but even his hustle and high pressure could not unlock the stubborn opposition.
"For Chris, it was a little bit hectic," said Klinsmann, "but I think he did fine. With a little bit of luck he scores that header right away, and that was not an easy header to take. He worked hard with Jozy up front, confirming what we have seen in training these two weeks. He's full of energy, he's sharp, he's going for goal, he's looking for chances and creating good chances."
"It was great to be able to get out there and get some minutes against another team in a real game," said Wondolowski of playing Azerbaijan. "We had some heavy legs, but that was part of our game plan in training. The coaches are really starting to push us. We are not supposed to be peaking now; we are supposed to peaking down in Brazil. That's been the coaches' game plan from the start, and we are starting to execute it."
Diskerud and Johannsson did make their marks in the final quarter hour, as in the 75th minute, Diskerud followed up a Bradley shot with the first goal of the evening and Johannsson doubled the lead in the 81st minute off a corner kick by Davis.
Tim Howard and the U.S. defense went untested for the remainder of the match, and the big Candlestick crowd celebrated another dos a cero victory. The U.S. national team continues its three game send off series ahead of the World Cup with matches next week in New Jersey against Turkey and Florida against Nigeria.
- U.S. Men's National Team Match Report -
Match: U.S. Men's National Team vs. Azerbaijan, powered by Yingli Solar
Date: May 27, 2014
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: Candlestick Park; San Francisco, Calif.
Kickoff: 7 p.m. PT
Weather: 66 degrees, partly cloudy
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 2 2
AZE 0 0 0
USA - Mix Diskerud 75th minute
USA - Aron Johannsson (Brad Davis) 81
USA: 1-Tim Howard (capt.); 23-Fabian Johnson (2-DeAndre Yedlin, 62), 20-Geoff Cameron (3-Omar Gonzalez, 46), 5-Matt Besler, 7-DaMarcus Beasley (21-Timmy Chandler, 46); 19-Graham Zusi (14-Brad Davis, 46), 13-Jermaine Jones, 4-Michael Bradley, 11-Alejandro Bedoya (10-Mix Diskerud, 71); 17-Jozy Altidore, 18-Chris Wondolowski (9-Aron Johannsson, 62)
Subs Not Used: 6-John Brooks, 8-Clint Dempsey, 12-Brad Guzan, 15-Kyle Beckerman, 16-Julian Green, 22-Nick Rimando
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
AZE: 1-Kamran Aghayev, 3-Rasim Ramaldanov, 4-Mahir Shukurov (capt.) (25-Ilkin Girtimov, 46), 7-Vagif Javadov (13-Dmitrij Nazarov, 60), 8-Gara Garayev, 10-Rufat Dadashov (28-Pardis Fardjad-Azad, 66), 11-Rauf Aliyev, 15-Ruslan Abishov (2-Badavi Guseynov, 46), 20-Ufuk Budak, 24-Abdulla Abasiyev (18-Maksim Medvedev, 71), 29-Elvin Yunuszade
Subs Not Used: 5-Shahriyar Aliyev, 9-Jihan Ozkara, 12-Emil Balayev, 14-Rashad Sadigov, 23-Salahat Aghayev
Head Coach: Berti Vogts
Stats Summary: USA / AZE
Shots: 14 / 7
Shots on Goal: 7 / 2
Saves: 2 / 5
Corner Kicks: 11 / 6
Fouls: 9 / 16
Offside: 1 / 1
Referee: Henry Bejarano (CRC)
Assistant Referee 1: Warner Castro (CRC)
Assistant Referee 2: Carlos Fernandez (CRC)
Fourth Official: Armando Castro (HON)